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Want to Take Lessons or Just Pleasure Ride? Join 'The Club'

March 18, 1993|DARLENE RICKER | Darlene Ricker is a Laguna Beach lawyer who practices equine law. She is the author of several books on horsemanship.

From health clubs to tennis clubs, Orange County recreation has long centered on the club concept. Its latest incarnation is an equestrian club in which the only requirement for membership is a desire to ride.

The organization, known simply as "The Club," has two locations, with four horses at the Orange County Fairgrounds Equestrian Center in Costa Mesa and 10 at Sycamore Trails in San Juan Capistrano. A third location, at Hidden Valley Ranch in Brea, will open next month. Unlike the other locations, which offer only English riding, the Brea club will also have Western riding and trail rides.

Anyone can become a club member by purchasing a lesson package; there are no initiation fees or annual dues. Members may book riding lessons or reserve a horse for "hacking" (pleasure riding). At $35 per lesson, the price is the same for private or group sessions, with discounts available for packages. The type of instruction you get depends upon how many members book the same ride.

The quality of the horses, however, is constant. Club owner Pat Bailey selected a string of show-quality mounts, rather than the back-yard-type horses commonly used for riding lessons. Her horses are trained to accommodate the novice rider, yet many have been show-ring champions in hunter, jumper and dressage competitions.

The club is designed for people who "want all the joys of the equestrian world without the responsibility," said Bailey, who is one of the club's three riding instructors. The club concept, she said, is far less demanding than horse ownership in terms of time, finances and emotions.

"Owning a horse is unpredictable. If the horse throws a shoe, you have to come up with money (for the horseshoer). If you are suddenly called out of town on business, you have to worry about getting the horse exercised. At the club, that's our problem, not yours."

Members enjoy a clubhouse at the San Juan Capistrano facility, complete with a stocked kitchen, a reading room with horse magazines and a clubroom with a television and horse videos. Members often arrive before lessons to relax; many spend an entire day there on weekends and go out to dinner together afterward. At lunchtime, members frequent an outdoor dining area with picnic tables overlooking one of the riding arenas.

"People are very supportive here," Bailey said. "Because our riders do not own their own horses, we don't have that snobbishness you often see" at private-ownership stables.

What you do see is a lot of dedication to improving one's horsemanship. Unlike traditional stables that provide instruction only on horseback, the club gives free educational newsletters and seminars on riding techniques. The instructors videotape lessons regularly and review them with students.

Members range from young single professionals to middle-aged women who are finally able to realize their lifelong dream of learning to ride. Some families also belong, although the club mostly caters to adults.

The club is open daily, except for Mondays in Costa Mesa and Fridays in San Juan Capistrano. For information, call (714) 661-3090.

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